Thoughts by Richard Bleil
On campus a few days ago, they had a “clubs” event. The idea is to get students more involved in campus activities, and the various clubs and groups had tables with displays and sign-up sheets. Among the clubs was the campus “Rainbow” club supporting LGBTQ+ students. This is a Catholic college, so I must admit that I was both encouraged and proud to see this group. As it turns out, a former student of mine holds a high rank among the group officers for the club, and I’ll have to speak with her about this. See, I often join these groups.
I’m actually heterosexual, but by joining I’m trying to show my support for the club and the LGBTQ+ community. The question I have is if this group would want me to be a member, since I am only an adjunct professor (part-time temporary) so I don’t have the “clout” I had in other institutions, so I need to speak with them to see if they want me involved. But having been involved in similar groups in other institutions, I know that there is a lot of shame involved with being “alternatively” sexual, and shame is something that I know a little bit about.
But, whose shame, exactly, is it? I can tell you that the shame is not that of the people of the LGBTQ+ community, even though they are typically led to believe that it is their shame. In reality, the shame belongs to those who shame them.
The shame belongs to the religious leaders who use their faith to mask homophobia, ascribing sin and judgment despite the fact that it is not their judgment to make. The shame belongs to those parents and family members who simply cannot accept the lifestyle of their loved one, afraid of how it might make their family look instead of recognizing the difficulty the individual is going through. The shame is with a society that has inherent prejudice, practices and laws that discriminate against its own citizens. The only person that does not actually own the shame is the individual who belongs to the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, the people who actually do own this shame cannot accept it and are all too good at instilling that shame into the individual.
Telling someone not to feel ashamed because it doesn’t actually belong to them is what I refer to as “Peter Pan advice.” Whether or not the individual agrees with my opinion or not doesn’t make it any easier to deal this these feelings. Unfortunately, this is something of which I am all too familiar. I’ve spent my life being derided and led to believe I have no real value because, although I am not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I certainly do not fit into the stereotypical mold of what I am supposed to be as a man. I’ve engaged in intellectual pursuits instead of competitive, I follow science instead of sports. Heck, in middle school, I was the only boy who registered for and took home economics. The skills I learned were invaluable in my future, such as cooking and sewing. I’ve never had the resources to build a garage to work on cars or wood shop so I’m convinced I did the right thing, but it was so strange for a boy to take home economics that by the second half of the year, whether I liked it or not, I was simply put into shop class. My proclivity towards what others deemed as “non-masculine” pursuits certainly didn’t help me to fit in, and, no doubt, has sown the seed of doubt about my sexuality into the minds of several people.
So, if recognizing the true owners of the shame doesn’t help to deal with these negative feelings then what is the point of raising this possibility? I can tell you that to this day, I still struggle with my feelings of shame, low opinions of self-worth and high self-doubt, but, recognizing that the shame isn’t mine has given me a fighting chance. I still struggle, but I now recognize my triggers, which has given me a semi-dependable “safety” to disable it, and at least an understanding to help me recover and understand what might make me “go off”. This knowledge gives me a weapon with which to fight the demons of the night.
It’s a difficult fight. I know it is. For what it’s worth, I stand with those who are fighting it, and if you are one, then I stand with you. I’m a “freak”, too. We’re in this together.